I forget all the time that I have tattoos. I see my sleeve everyday and I never think twice about it. My tattoos have pretty much become innate to who I am. But for much of society, it is seen quite the opposite. For many people, tattoos are a blemish not only physically, but in a sort of sacrilegious-to-the-body kind of way. To some, they are like graffiti on a sacred vessel. I forget that in choosing to get tattoos (visible ones at that) that I am putting myself out there to be stereotyped and discriminated against. I forget that for many people, appearances undermine character. In a world that still values first impressions, I have set myself up to fail in many ways. Crazy I chose to face such adversity (albeit minor).
By having tattoos, I have probably disappointed—and somewhat embarrassed—more people than just my mom. I remember my mom begging that I wear long sleeves for my high school graduation open house (in the heat of late May). I reluctantly agreed to appease her superficial need to not draw any unwanted attention from family members. I find myself overthinking work relationships (clients and co-workers), family introductions—every social situation you could think of. Truth be told, it’s because I care what the valued people in my life think of me. Having tattoos doesn’t make me heartless, tough, and apathetic. I’m an over-analyzer and tattoos are no exception to that guilt-riddled habit. I’m aware of societal views. I’m only human. And I’m only the human I was born to be.
I’m sure many people wonder why I have tattoos in spite of all of the negative social side effects. Well, really if its not one thing, it’ll be another. I embrace having the spectacle for judgment out in the open versus hidden and awaiting. If it weren’t my appearance, it would be my intellect, political views, etc. etc. But it does have its drawbacks, such as with seeking a career. I remember my mom’s reaction after I got my first tattoo a few months after turning 18. She cried. She said she was sort of grieving for all of the hope she had for me to have “a good job” later in life. She of course was referencing “first impressions” and the old stigma associated with persons with tattoos. You know, that tattoos are for gangsters and felons. Absolutely ridiculous, right? If I haven’t already mentioned, my parents were born at the beginning of the baby boomer spike, so her views are quite normal for her time.
I get it. I understand the worry. But not long after my first tattoo, I enrolled in college. And the better I did, the more tattoos I seemed to get. Odd. I graduated with a 3.9 GPA and I can now say wholeheartedly that if a prospective employer chooses to discriminate based on my appearance versus academic merit—I wouldn’t want to work for them anyhow. With that philosophy, I have been optimistic about the changing views of tattoos and piercings. I’ve seen a growing acceptance for them and don’t feel judgment nearly as much as my mom had tried to prepare me for. Every job I have applied for has had pretty liberal tattoo and piercing policies. Mind you, none of these jobs are where I could see spending a lifetime.
Like most people with tattoos, I have experienced judgment. I have been working in senior care for the past year so I knew there will be some opinions on my appearance. One gentleman was having a morning conversation with his daughter and failed to realize the screen door was the only barrier between his words and my ears.
“Can you believe it? She’s going to be a mom with an arm like that.” I could’ve cried right there as I was working, 6 months pregnant, on all fours in the heat of summer to beautify his patio. His daughter probably knew I could hear her, but nonetheless came to the defense of “my generation”.
“It’s a different generation, Dad.”
“Her child will probably get tattoos, too. It’s a cycle.”
“Actually, the child will probably not get tattooed because it would be ‘uncool’ to take after the parents.” And that was the end of that conversation. I was happy to have his daughter come to my defense rather than continue to cast judgment about who I am or where I will be because I have a tattoo on my arm. But what I really wanted to hear her say was that my appearance is not a precursor to my capabilities as a parent. And to think so is not only baseless but also extremely hurtful.
Then I have clients like one older lady that thought tattoos were a unique way of expression. She prided herself on being before her time. Growing up very religious, she abandoned her conservative religion at a young age and became spiritual in her own right. She was eighty-six and loved to talk about sociopolitical issues with me. I have never (knowingly) known a more open-minded elder.
Thing is, older generations and younger generations are generally going to have different beliefs and values. It’s a cycle of life symptom to our intelligence. But I am optimistic and aware that views are changing—the older generations will inevitably die out and the younger ones will take their place. Someday I will be of the older generation and I might become crotchety and opinionated, too. I like to think I will still embrace the weird and unique; making it a duty of my retirement to be that old lady who says things like “Fucking stoners!” while shaking a cane. I’ve got time to figure that all out. Who knows what may happen from now until then?
There’s a lot of wonderment about if I’ve considered the way my tattoos will look as an old, wrinkly lady. To be honest, no I don’t think about that. But I do think I will still feel empowered by matching the exterior to the interior all the same.